Years ago I read an article about the marriage of George Putnam, an American publisher/promoter who at one time was married to Amelia Earhart. The premise of the article (and I've been searching the webs for hours to try to find this one story) was that Amelia was never that good of a pilot, she only had a passing interest in flying, enjoyed it for sure - but not the best 'stick and rudder' woman around and not highly skilled enough to be taking on the challenges she did at the time.
One of Amelia Earhart's Planes - Sponsored By Beech-Nut
Mr. Putnam, being a promoter/publisher in the 1930's saw in her an opportunity to 'build a star' much like the record companies go out every two years and create a brand new 'boy band' or 'sexy female star' to promote. Putnam created the image of Amelia the Aviatrix and promoted her aviation exploits purely for financial gain, to sell papers and magazines and bring in big money from aircraft sponsorship's and so on.
George Putnam - New York, City c. 1943
And so the story goes on to say that in order to keep making headlines, and keep the paychecks ka-chinging all the way to the bank, both Putnam the flyer needed more and more and bigger and bigger air challenges to conquer to stay on top. There were a lot of female and male pilots in the 1930's all seeking fame and fortune from the new technical discipline, but Putnam with his publishing background and advantages kept the upper hand PR-wise.
Remember flying was still in its infancy - we were still in an age of undependable power plants, frail canvas covered wings, spars, braces and cables that could let go and break at any moment, spindly landing gear. Flying was a daring then to us as space travel is now. Notices of pilot deaths from barnstorming, trick maneuvers and attempts at distance records were common in the news media of the day.
What brought all this to mind for me was over the weekend the History Channel, an organization that has long ago given up on actual history programs in favor of the entertaining adventures of guys going through others old junk, ancient space visitors to earth, the daily lives of people who live without electricity in the mountains, people who chop down trees everyday and guys that drive trucks over frozen lakes. They long ago got away from 'history' per se'.
The big program was centered around the idea that Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan (her navigator) were not lost on or near Howland Island on July 2nd, 1937, but captured by the Japanese Army and held as a war spy (some nearly 4 years before WWII started for us) and all this based on a 'long lost photo' that shows Earhart and Noonan on a dock somewhere in the Pacific.
Pilot and Navigator
But in the past two days, many have come out and claimed the photo existed some two years prior to the Earhart disappearance and actually dates to 1935.
Oh dear History Channel - should we start an email campaign with suggestions for a new name for your network? How about CNN?
As if on cue, the National Geographic Channel released a story on July 7 just before the History Channel story that claims four bone-sniffing dogs have identified the very spot where Amelia Earhart may have died eighty years and nine days ago.
Actually the dogs are not even looking at Howland Island - but a reef off Nikumaroro some 350 nautical miles away. Investigators have spooned up several soil samples of the spot the pups identified, and have sent it to determine whether any human DNA remains in the soil.
With the 'dock photo' virtually fully discredited - it appears as though either or both Fred Noonan and Amelia Earhart died as lonely castaways on a remote south Pacific island.